The United States of Utah

Restaurant chains have yet obliterated regional cuisine—every state in the country still prides itself on certain foods that define its culture. Our super-mobile society means we have a lot of displaced people craving a taste of home so regional food has spread across the nation. Here we take a look—a taste, really—of some foods that used to be far away and are now right here in Utah. Of course, we took a little license where we had to.

The great State O’ Maine has always been famous for lobstah rolls—vertically split and buttered rolls crammed with fresh lobster meat. Years ago, Freshies opened, flying in the ornery crustaceans and bringing lobster rolls to Utah. Now Freshies has a location in Salt Lake City as well and, by the way, Freshies was voted Best Lobster Roll in the country in TKTK. Just sayin’, Maine. 356 E 900 South, SLC, 801-829-1032

Georgia is “the peach state” and besides eating one straight from the tree still warm from the southern sun, there’s not better way to eat a peach than in a pie. Utah, of course, has its own famous peaches—Brigham City started celebrating Peach Days in 1904—and Tradition puts them in a pie to die for. Only in season, and only until they run out. 501 E 900 South, SLC, 385-202-7167

The Chesapeake Bay is home to the beautiful swimmers, blue crabs, and crab cakes are on most Maryland menus. The best in the universe are at Faidley’s in Baltimore’s Lexington Market. Where you stand and eat them at a long bar. Here we have a white tablecloth version at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. There are a few more breadcrumbs in these, but they are still mostly lumps of crabmeat held together by a crust and fried. 275 S W Temple, SLC, 801-363-2000

Texas is famous for chili, barbecue and Tex-Mex, none of which are reproducible outside the state’s wide borders. Texans love to talk, by which we mean argue, about chili ad nauseam. To get a taste of the controversy, read Bowl of Red. The main feature of Texas chili is the absence of beans and the best approximation we’ve had here is the elk and pork chili at Liberty Tap House. 850 900 South, SLC, 801-441-2845


New Mexico
Green chilies from Hatch, New Mexico are now celebrated nationally—come fall, every specialty grocer in the land has a wire chile roaster out front. And green chile stew made with the peppers (Hatch or not) and chunks of pork is pure New Mexico. Eat it by itself with tortillas, put it over enchiladas or top it with an egg like they do at Maria’s Mexican Grill.
3336 S 2300 East, SLC, 801-883-9774

Supposedly, the now ubiquitous chimichanga was invented by a guy named Woody Johnson when he impulsively dunked burritos into the deep fryer his El Nido restaurant in Phoenix. That was back in 1946 and now chimichangas are a staple like tacos and enchiladas. We like the ones at Chile-tepin, stuffed with your choice of beef, chicken or pork. 307 W 200 South, SLC, 801-883-9255

Fried pickles don’t sound like a good idea and yet…The story is they were invented in Arkansas, but the town that’s most associated with them is Vicksburg, Mississippi where the old riverfront restaurants used to serve them before your fried catfish. And many claim the best are still to be had in the old Southern town. Here, oddly, they’re a specialty at The Garden, one of the restaurants in Temple Square. 15 E. South Temple, SLC, 801-539-3170

White clam pizza is the food that dazzles Connecticut. As near as we can tell, we don’t have any in Utah. What we DO have is REPLACE 126 S. Regent St., SLC, 801-359-4011

It’s those little-bitty limes that make the pie so special—smaller, yellower, with more intense flavor and aromatics than the big green Persian limes, key limes are scarcer, too. A hurricane in 1924 wiped out Florida’s crop and though it’s rebounded some, another storm could do the same thing and we’ve been having hella hurricane seasons the last few years. Fortunately, some other places grow them, but our advice is, eat as much key lime pie now as you possibly can. Here, June Pie makes a good one, but this is also surprisingly easy to make at home. 133 N. Main, Heber, 435-503-6950

Tater Tots were invented by potato farmers Nephi and Golden Griggs at the Ore-Ida labs in 1954 as a way to use the scraps left over from the making french fries. The machine that cut the potatoes into uniform slices also produced irregular scraps. For years, the scraps were fed to livestock, until another machine was invented to produce the tot. Most tots still come frozen from Ore-Ida but at least one place in Salt Lake makes their own: Chedda-Burger. And they’re excellent. The Gateway, 190 400 West, SLC

Marionberries are pretty much an exclusively Oregonian thing—a cross between two kinds of blackberry, they were invented in Oregon and 90 percent are grown near Salem. So, we can’t really have marionberry pie here in Utah. BUT, we have our own terrific berry pie, one that mixes the berries right in the pie instead of on the plant. The Mountain Berry Pie in Veyo, Utah, at Veyo Pies is filled with blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. 24 S. Main St, Veyo, 435-574-2132


Philadelphians, Pennsylvanians and the world, have been debating who makes the best Philly cheese steak for decades. The contenders are Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s, both in South Philly, and to most of us, the question is moot. Cheesesteak, a sandwich made of very thin slices of frizzled beef topped with cheese (now usually Cheez Whiz and served on a hoagie roll, seems to us a very simple concoction to cause so much controversy. In Utah, you can get a good version at Moochie’s. But of course, it’s up for debate.

South Carolina
South Carolina Low Country is a culture unto itself; like Louisiana’s Cajun country or the
Pennsylvania Dutch area, the cuisine is different from the rest of the state’s. The kitchen signature is shrimp and grits, known for years as “breakfast shrimp.” Creamy, nubbly sweet corn grits with firm sweet shellfish the combination is a natural and is also a natural canvas for adventurous chefs who add everything from bacon to chiles to change up the basic. Copper Kitchen’s version uses Anson mills grits, and adds a flourish of candied bacon and a poached egg. 4640 S. 2300 East #102, Holladay, 385-237-3159

Tennessee The origin of Nashville’s famous hot chicken sandwich is debated, well, hotly—it’s as hard a tug-of-war as that between Geno and Pat (see Philly steak.)but whether you’re a Hattie-B’s loyalist or regard Prince’s as the King of Hot chicken, the sandos are similar—chicken fried in a very (very) spicy batter, served on a bun with pickles, slaw and sauce. In Salt Lake City, former fine dining star Viet Pham worked years to perfect his version at Pretty Bird and the lines attest to its popularity. 146 Regent St, SLC, no phone

Cheese, like wine, is dependent on terroir. The grass the cow eats directly affects the milk and that’s what cheese is made from. So Vermont cheddar, with its sharp, almost bitter bite, is unique to Vermont. But cheddar, a hard, smooth cow’s milk cheese (named after Cheddar, England) can be made lots of places and Utah is one. Beehive Cheese specializes in cheddar cheese, especially ones with a custom rub, like Barely Buzzed, with its coffee-lavender coating and Seahive with sea salt and honey. 2440 E 6600 South #8, Uintah, 801-476-0900

They’re supposed to squeak—it’s an indication of freshness. Cheese curds, the bits of cheese that form from the curdled milk, before they’re pressed into a wheel, are a favorite snack in the dairy state, where once upon a time margarine was more expensive than butter. And it’s a fave here in Utah, too, a road food staple. Heber Valley curds come from the cows grazing around the dairy. The squeakiest. And they come infused with seasonings like garlic and hot pepper. 920 River Road, Heber, 435-654-0291

Few foods are as dramatic looking—well, downright scary looking—as a king crab leg. They’re like the Wolverine of seafood—crab-eaters at places like Tracy’s Crab Shack in Juneau Alaska look almost savage as they tear apart the bright red shells. Meyer lemon hollandaise and brioche toast make these broiled legs split down the middle and broiled tame the ones at Current Fish and Oyster and make them a standout, one that requires fewer napkins. 279 E 300 South, SLC, 801-326-3474

You can’t get Gooey Butter Cake here. But you’ll wish you could—it’s delicious. And you can make one. Find a recipe at

New York
It’s the water. We know that. New York water is the reason there can be no bagel equal to the ones in the City. Given that, we should all just give up. But we have damn good water here in Utah and while bagels made here may not be worthy of New York-bred palates, the bagels at The Bagel Project are great Utah bagels. 779 S. 500 East, SLC, 801-906-0698

Rhode Island
Rhode Islanders love coffee milk—coffee-flavored syrup mixed in milk, but despite all the sweet beverage and coffee shops in Utah, we can’t find coffee milk. It’s easy to make your own coffee syrup, though. Then just stir it into milk, cold or hot. Here’s the recipe at

Utah seems to be woefully bereft of authentic or even reminiscent dishes from the Land o’ Lincoln. No deep dish pizza (like a bread dough pie crust filled with tomato sauce), no Chicago dogs with that glow-in-the-dark green relish. What we DO have is J. Dawgs, a hot dog place with a Jesuitically strict menu: Hot dogs, period. Choice of five toppings, period. Mr. Dawg wants you to relish (pun intended) the pure taste of a tube steak. J. Dawg’s, 341 S. Main St., SLC, 801-373-DAWG (Other locations; go to

Alabama food is southern food so frankly, we’re picking from a Dixie grab-bag and saying fried green tomatoes are Alabaman. (Please correct us if we’re wrong.) The trick to fried green tomatoes is the cornmeal in the crust—that’s what gives them the crunch that makes the dish worth it. Here in Salt Lake City, Tradition’s tomatoes travel outside the South with a chili jam, chipotle aioli and cilantro and a crunch that’s as loud as the best we’ve had.
501 E 900 South, SLC, 385) 202-7167

North Carolina
There’s a line down the middle of the south—on the western side, barbecue means beef, on the eastern side, it means pork. Long and slow-cooked pulled pork, served with a thin vinegary mustardy sauce. Here in Salt Lake, Pat’s does the pork, although like most BBQ joints here, the kitchen also does beef, ribs and even chicken.

You can get a version of a Kentucky Hot Brown at Hub & Spoke, but the state is mostly known for the Mint Julep, drunk by thousands during the Kentucky Derby, but classically refreshing anytime it’s warm. (It’s winter? So turn up the heat.) It’s supposed to be served over crushed ice in a silver cup, but most people at the Derby drink it out of plastic. In Utah, it’s been refined at High West Saloon, which holds a Derby Day celebration every year, complete with hats, and makes the drink with their Rendezvous Rye. 703 Park Ave., Park City, 435-649-8300

Lots of great food comes from California but we pick avocado toast because it exemplifies the state’s insistent trendiness. Like many things Californian, avocado toast sounds silly and is trendy, but is actually an excellent idea. We like the version served at Publik Kitchen on Red Bicycle peasant bread 931 E 900 South, SLC, 385- 229-4205

It’s not a pie at all. But then, the Boston Tea Party wasn’t a tea party, either. But Boston cream pie was invented in Boston at the Parker House Hotel, the one that’s famous for its dinner rolls. A split layer of butter cake filled with creamy custard and topped with chocolate, Boston Cream Pie is somewhat old-fashioned now—it’s hard to find on menus. But Rovali’s Ristorante Italiano, a family-owned Italian restaurant in Ogden, has a full-on bakery attached to it, run by the bakery- besotted daughter of the family, Andrea. And she makes Boston Cream Pie. Thank god. 174 25th St., Ogden, 801-394-1070

Yes, Dolle’s salt water taffy started in Ocean City, Maryland. But it wasn’t long—1927—before an entrepreneur opened an outpost on another boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. There it’s become an institution and many consider it the best. Here, of course, you get salt water taffy from Taffy Town, family-owned for 100 years. 55 West 800 South, SLC, 801-355-4637

Cranberries grow in bogs. which are nonexistent in our desert state but plentiful in soggy Minnesota. But because of their vaunted health benefits, we all eat cranberries and not just at Thanksgiving anymore. Pig and A Jelly Jar uses dried cranberries in their house granola (along with toasted rolled oats, walnuts, coconut, strawberries and local milk or yogurt) even though crans are about as far from Southern food as you can get. 401 E. 900 South, SLC, 385-202-7366. Other locations:

Of course, maple syrup. Even though the Vermont maid’s brand is mostly corn syrup. Well, most commercial “maple” syrup is only flavored corn syrup. You can’t mistake the real thing. (Hint: You don’t need to buy grade A; grade B is just as good, maybe better.) Rye improves on the original by adding just a smidge of whiskey. It makes the morning go down just a little easier. 239 500 East, SLC, 801-364-4655


There’s actually a town in Indiana called Popcorn. So, although fried pork tenderloin sandwiches and sugar cream pie are statewide darlings, one of Indiana’s two top crops is corn and Orville Redenbacher himself was born in Indiana, we’re calling popcorn the state’s signature food. Here in Utah, although alfalfa is our main agri-crop, we make some popular popcorn, too. PopArt, in particular, with its way beyond butter and salt flavorings—rosemary & truffle, parmesan & white pepper, Thai coconut curry—makes our mouths water. For sale in most groceries.

In New Orleans, at Morning Call or Cafe du Monde, beignets are rushed out from the kitchen fryer, hot and covered with so much powdered sugar that a shower on your shirt, beard, mouth is inevitable. No place in Utah that we know of reproduces this experience. But beignets are basically pieces of dough that puff when they’re fried. Yes, like what Utahns call scones. So if you go to Mom’s in Salina, pack your own sugar shaker and forego the ersatz honey butter, you get close to a beignet. That’s the best we can do. 10 E Main St, Salina, 435-529-3921

Where the buffalo roam, bison is a favorite on the menu. That means Montana and Utah, too. Chef Dave Jones at Log Haven has a way with the big beast and if you want to cook your own, The Store sells it alongside beef. 6451 Millcreek Canyon Rd., 801-272-8255

West Virginia
A chain of biscuit-based restaurants and a taste for biscuit sandwiches prove the point—West Virginians love great big biscuits. So do we and we get them at Woodland Biscuit Company in Woodland or at The Daily in downtown SLC. 222 Main St Suite 140, SLC, 385-322-1270; 2734 E State Hwy 35, Woodland, 435) 783-4202

North Dakota

When you look up North Dakota cuisine, you find mysteriously vague references to “hot dish.” Apparently, this refers to some kind of casserole. The closest Utah comes to a universal casserole is our famous funeral potatoes and you ought to know how to make them already. If not, here’s a recipe from a Bountiful cookbook:

Michigan’s Northwest Lower Peninsula is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States and cherry everything, especially pie, is typical Michiganders treat. But cherries also thrive in Utah and while no pies come especially to mind, Squatters new Grandeur Peak spiked sparkling water, flavored with Utah cherries, floats immediately to top of mind. 147 Broadway, SLC, 801- 363-2739

New Hampshire
Apple cider is New Hampshire’s official state beverage as of 2010. The state has dozens of cideries. Utah only has one, but Mountain West Cider is taking up more and more shelf space and the cidery itself is a treasured spot to sit and sip. Live free or die. 425 N 400 West, SLC, 801-935-4147

Judging from living next door to the Sooner state for decades and from extensive online research, it’s safe to say that the favorite Oklahoma foods are fried—chicken, steak and slippery, slimy okra, which is really at its best fried, in a stiff, cornmeal-reinforced batter. Most places order it frozen and dunk it in the hot oil but R&R hand-breads the nasty little chunks, which come out sublime. 307 W 600 South, SLC, 801-364-0443

Ham (country aged) and biscuits is a Virginia favorite, but to get something that simple on Sweet Lake Biscuit and Limeade (or any Utah breakfast menu, you’ll hve have to make like Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces: “Hold the egg, hold the hollandaise, hold the tomato, hold the green onion, hold the garnish.” Just the ham and the biscuit. Better make it two biscuits. 54 W 1700 South, SLC, 801-953-1978

Just to clear one thing up, an elephant’s eye is around ten feet from the ground; corn grows to an average of eight feet, but has been known to reach 30 feet. But no matter how high it is, most of it grows in Iowa, so obviously Iowans eat a lot of it. The sugar in corn starts converting as soon as you pick it, so it’s best to go from stalk to pot ASAP. But we’re not in Iowa. So corn here has to be doctored a little and we think it’s best as Mexican elotes, with queso fresco and chile molito, like it’s served at Alamexo Mexican Kitchen. 268 State St., SLC, 801-779-4747

Chocolate gravy. On biscuits. Yes, this is an Arkansas thing, although it’s served elsewhere in the South but no place we could find in Utah has it on the menu. If you want to try it at home, find a recipe at And, um, let us know how that works out for you.

Salmon is so emblematic of Washington it almost goes without saying, and salmon is the standard fish on restaurant menus. Who doesn’t love it? BUT, there’s salmon and salmon—farmed (ask how), Atlantic (ask what that means), silver, pink…At Harbor Seafood & Steak, they’re careful about salmon, where it comes from and how it’s caught. No need for questions. 2302 Parley’s Way, SLC, 801-466-9827

Salt Lakers seem to have an insatiable appetite for sushi so of course, when Hawaiian poke arrived on the scene, it was instantly craveable. Rice, raw fish and garnishes is poke at its simplest and that’s what you get at Moki’s Hawaiian Grill. 4836 S Redwood Rd, Taylorsville, 801-965-6654


Wyoming without question has some of the best trout fishing in America and without question the bestway to eat it a trout is fresh-caught and slapped in a pan. If you can’t do that—and most restaurants can’t —the next best thing is to smoke it. The smoked trout and Brie appetizer at Silver Fork Lodge could be a light meal and in the rustic setting you can pretend you got a bite. 11332 Big Cottonwood Canyon Rd, Brighton, 801- 533-9977

South Dakota
Indian fry bread is the official bread of SoDak. Controversial because it symbolizes the “Long Walk” of the 1800’s when Indians were relocated onto reservations and rationed American foods like flour, powdered milk and lard instead of native foodstuffs, it represents both oppression and native American ingenuity, and it’s made lots of places besides South Dakota. Utah has its own tradition of fry bread, given a contemporary twist at Black Sheep Cafe in Provo and served traditionally at Twin Rocks Cafe near Bluff. Black Sheep Cafe, 19 N University Ave, Provo, 801-607-2485 Twin Rocks Cafe, 913 East Navajo Twins Dr, Bluff, 435- 672-2341

Another state famous for its BBQ, there’s been a long running tug of war between Kansas and Texas about the subject (BBQ seems to inspire dispute) with the great food writer Calvin Trillin trumpeting the virtues of Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City. We’ll stay out of the fray and just recommend Sugar House Barbecue Company as a one-place-suits all solution. It’s all good, here. But we have to put in a word for the Greek potatoes, which aren’t relevant, really, but are remarkably delicious. 880 E 2100 South, SLC, 801- 463-4800

You can’t find Cincinnati 3-way chili here, but perhaps dearer to the stomach of Ohioans is the candy called “Buckeyes” after the distinctive tree nut. Basically a chocolate-peanut butter confection that looks like a buckeye; for a Utah equivalent without the arboreal reference, go to Hatch Family Chocolates and get a hand-dipped peanut butter truffle. Close your eyes and you’ll think you’re in Ohio. So open them. 376 8th Ave., SLC, 801-532-4912

As near as we can tell, something called runzas are the food dearest to the heart of the Cornhuskers. They’re a kind of meat-filled pastry, maybe a little like a Cornish pasty. The closest we can come is a meat pie and Fillings & Emulsions makes those—Cuban-style, chicken, ropa viejo. In fact, on Meat Pie Mondays you get two for the price of one. 1475 Main St., SLC, 385-229-4228

It’s a little pitiful, but also true. Our neighboring state doesn’t really have any signature foods. When you look it up, all you find is references to buffets. We have buffets in Utah, too. Just Google.

Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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